Dr. Anna Pou Is Not a Murderer

Posted by Clark Venable on 7/19/2006

I just learned that a former colleague and friend has been charged with second degree murder in the death of four patients at a New Orleans hospital after Katrina. I worked with Dr. Anna Pou in the operating room when we were both in Galveston, Texas for three years in the late nineties. She worked as a head and neck surgeon specializing in cancer surgery and I provided anesthesia for many of her cases. After reading the story my only reaction is that this entire case is about an attorney general making a name for himself. Dr. Pou is a wonderful, caring, highly skilled surgeon. Her concern has always been for the comfort and well-being of her patients.

When I spoke to her by telephone several months ago to express my support, we were unfortunately not able to discuss the events leading up to the criminal charges filed Monday. I don't believe any of us can truly imagine the conditions at Memorial Medical Center in the days following the hurricane. The fact that she was there, taking care of patients rather than safely evacuated with her husband, reflects the deep committment she felt to her patients and is consistent with what I know about her.

In my mind, this case is all about whether or not the intent of administering morphine was to alleviate suffering or to cause death. If the purpose of administering morphine was to treat pain or aleviate suffering, then doing so is permissible even if respiratory depression and hastening of death is a forseable consequence. This ethical position is termed the 'Principle of Double Effect.'In normal practice a hospital ethics committee would be asked to help make these evaluations. Dr. Pou had no such resource available to her.

I'll be writing more about his case as information comes out.

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